No, the title of "Half Past Dead" isn't meant to describe the state of one-note, whisper-tough action star Steven Seagal's movie career -- but it wouldn't be far off. The guy has never had the best taste in scripts -- let's face it, any good movies he's made have been flukes -- but this gangsta-styled, ammo-fueled, prison break-in Z-movie could well be the dumbest flick he's ever anchored.
Taking place on a high-tech "New Alcatraz" prison island, where a guard's hand print and voice identification are required to get into cell blocks but the armory doesn't even have a screen door, the plot revolves around prisoner (and deep-cover FBI agent) Seagal leading the inmates in a battle against leather-clad bad-ass invaders from Central Casting who've come to snatch a death row resident -- during his execution -- so he can lead them to a secret stash of gold.
Nothing more than feeble, imitation-John-Woo style slow-mo shoot-outs and kung fu clashes set to a rap and hard-rock soundtrack, this movie has no standards beyond achieving the loudest possible visual volume. Writer-director Don Michael Paul (whose only credits are the script for the insufferable sci-fi motorcycle movie "Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man" and episodes of trash TV like "Silk Stalkings" and "Pacific Blue") couldn't care less about wooden acting, scenery chewing or gaping chasms in common sense, just as long as the guns stay a-blazin' and the obligatory babe baddie (Nia Peeples) shows a lot of midriff (because tight leather tummy tops are just so practical when parachuting into a penitentiary full of hardened rapists and murderers).
Of course, a little eye candy never hurt an action movie. But "Half Past" is so fatiguingly flashy in the action department -- over-edited fight scenes in heavy rain are just about all Paul has to offer -- and so aggressively asinine that it could insult the intelligence of a lobotomy patient.
The picture takes place in a prison where the whole joint can be under attack -- paratroopers, grenades, gun battles, crashing helicopters -- without a single alarm sounding to alert the warden, guards and government officials who are in the absurdly deluxe execution chamber to watch the condemned man die. It takes place in a prison where 55-gallon drums of gasoline are left lying around boiler rooms with lots of chains hanging from the ceiling to swing on during fight sequences. It takes place in a prison without bullet-proof glass, where belt-fed machine guns are standard issue and cell block floors have trap doors with elevators so good guys can make dramatic entrances and escapes.
It's a picture that shamelessly steals plot elements, lines of dialogue and even entire scenes from other action movies, good ("Dirty Harry" and Seagal's own "Under Siege") and bad ("The Rock"). It's a picture in which thousands of rounds of ammunition are fired, but only a handful of people are ever shot, even though the bad guy (the normally admirable Morris Chestnut from "The Brothers" and "The Best Man") supposedly kills without compunction.
If there's one merciful plus to this whole film, it's the veritable but tongue-in-cheek performance of young rapper Ja Rule as a good-natured, featherweight hoodlum who's got Seagal's back. He seems to be the only person on set not taking himself seriously.
You don't have to be an idiot to watch "Half Past Dead" (although it would help), but you'd be foolish to think it could be anything beyond pure garbage. However, the question is not who'd go see this crap. The question is, just how low are the standards of Don Michael Paul, Steven Seagal, producer Andrew Stevens (president of Franchise Pictures) and the executives at Sony's disreputable Screen Gems label?